It's now 1969 on AMC's Mad Men, and the start of advertising genius Don Draper's final journey. Show creator Matthew Weiner is currently at work writing and shooting the series' concluding episodes. The final season, which began last month, is divided into two parts, with the second half to be shown next year.
The new season opens with Don and his advertising agency dealing with the consequences of what happened at the end of Season 6, when the partners forced Don to take a leave of absence after he chose the wrong time to tell the truth about his past.
Weiner tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross that after all these years, he's still conflicted about Don and his secretive, promiscuous ways.
"I don't really have a lot of judgment for Don," he says. "He makes me nervous. I feel bad for him. I want him to be able to get out of things. I know that he has a lot of love in his heart. I just don't know if it's possible to stand up and rectify everything by telling the truth."
On the Season 6 finale in which Don opens up to his children and shows them the brothel where he grew up
Usually I start [a new season] with an image in my head [of the last shot], and that was the image. The execution of that image is a totally different thing. By the time you get there — when the camera is there, the crew is there and the actors are there — the pressure is on to actually execute it.
What we wanted to do was show that [his daughter] Sally [played by Kiernan Shipka] was both disgusted and illuminated and that she, like the rest of the world, was going to see Don. She had walked in on him with his mistress; and Megan is her friend, her stepmother. ... The whole thing was already so damaged. But we set this thing up that she didn't know who he was. They had the woman break into their house pretending to be her grandmother and Sally was fooled by it because she knows nothing about him.
It really had to do with Kiernan, the actress, interacting with Jon Hamm [who plays Don] that made it work that way. I think Jon Hamm looked at her like: "Take it or leave it, baby. This is what it is. I'm being honest with you." And she looked at it like: "That's gross, but oh my God that's who you are."
The best thing is, to me, no words: "This is where I grew up." No words, and that's the part that I find, as a viewer, sinks into me in any entertainment.
On the final season being split into two parts
The network has decided to split it over two years, so that's already different. I added an extra episode because I didn't want to have a six-episode run; I mean, seven is going to feel short enough. I had a plan with the writers for these 14 episodes that goes across them together, but there's going to be 10 months between them on the air. So right away I'm like, "Ugh, I need two premieres, two finales, really, because I want people to come back."
It allowed for less digression, quite honestly. I don't know how the audience feels about that, but when you're doing 13 episodes you can investigate every corner of the story if you want to. You can follow anybody home. This has made us really concentrate on the main characters — that was one of the byproducts of it. And it actually didn't seem like enough episodes for what we had to do. I'm writing Episode 12 right now. ... I actually haven't written the last two.
On the existential questions that are influencing Don's journey
I have a birthday the day after we wrap, it's 49; my oldest son, who is on the show [as Glen], is going off to college in the fall. There's a lot happening at once as the show ends, so what I've been thinking about is, like: What is the substance of your life? Who are the people you make a difference with? What is your job? At what point do you start looking at yourself in an honest way?
[The question] "Is change possible?" is a big part of it. There's been a lot of apologizing going on in the show. Don certainly owes people apologies, but the reception of an apology, the quality of mercy, how people behave to your change is sometimes the thing that keeps you from changing. ...
I'm going to be leaving these characters in a place where they belong and I'm trying to take Don on a journey that will help you understand something about him.
On Hamm's audition to play Don
It's become part of the legend of the show that he had to audition seven times, and that was not my doing. He was an unknown person and [the network] required some convincing to rest this multimillion-dollar property on an unknown person. ...
My litmus test was, at the end of the pilot you find out that he's married and I would just sort of watch the audition and say, "Do I hate this man? Do I hate this man for cheating on his wife? Do I hate him after everything I've seen?" And Jon had a depth and maybe carries — even if it's fictional — a sense of a wound, a sense of a conscience, a sense of conflict. You're seeing it on the show all the time. He brought that to it.
Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and I think, "Oh my God, what if I didn't cast him?" You know? Well, I wouldn't have a show.
TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. My guest, Matthew Weiner, is at work writing and shooting the final episodes of "Mad Men." He's the creator of "Mad Men," as well as an executive producer, writer and director of the show. The final season, which began three Sundays ago, is divided in half, with the second half to be shown next year.
If you watch "Mad Men" but aren't caught up, you might want to listen to this after you've watched the episode that was shown last Sunday on AMC. It's now 1969 on "Mad Men," and we're seeing the consequences of what Don Draper and his advertising agency, Sterling Cooper and Partners, did at the end of last season. The partners forced Don to take a leave of absence after he chose the wrong time to tell the truth about his past.
He and some of his partners were at a pitch meeting with representatives from Hershey Chocolate, an important prospective client. Don delivered a heartwarming pitch, drawing on his childhood memory of how his father would reward him for mowing the lawn by taking him to the drugstore and letting him buy anything. Don would choose a Hershey bar, and he forever equated Hershey with his father's love.
The folks from Hershey liked that. Then Don told the truth, the secret about his past that shocked everyone in the room.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MAD MEN")
JON HAMM: (As Don Draper) I was an orphan. I grew up in Pennsylvania in a whorehouse. I read about Milton Hershey and his school in (unintelligible) magazine or some other crap the girls left by the toilet. And I read that some orphans had a different life there. I could picture it. I dreamt of it, being wanted because the woman who was forced to raise me would look at me every day like she'd hoped I would disappear.
(As Don) The closest I got to feeling wanted was from a girl who made me go through her johns' pockets while they (bleep). When I collected more than a dollar, she'd buy me a Hershey bar, and I would eat it alone in my room with great ceremony, feeling like a normal kid. It said sweet on the packet. It was the only sweet thing in my life.
GROSS: A scene from the conclusion of last season's "Mad Men." Matthew Weiner, welcome back to FRESH AIR. This season is great. It's so much fun to have you back on the air again. I'm so glad you are here.
MATTHEW WEINER: Thank you so much, Terry, I'm so excited to be here.
GROSS: So before we get to the new season, we have to talk about that Hershey bar scene. It was such a great way to show the difference between the public image of Don and the image - you know, the image Don's created for himself and the real life that he's had, his real background. And it's also a great way to show how ads often present a very idealized image not only of the product but of who we are as consumers. How did you decide to have Don's kind of public confession about this and a kind of little, mini breakdown be during an advertising pitch.
WEINER: Well, I mean, that was the high stakes. I mean, we all have secrets, and certainly a lot of the drama comes from the fact that Don is - there's a public Don and a private Don. And Don was back where he was and was forced to basically tell the truth. But who was there to tell? And to me, it was, you know, Cooper knows about him, Pete knows about him, now his daughter knows about him in many ways. Betty knows about him. What is keeping him from having the self-esteem that matches the outside?
And we sort of got him through alcohol and a series of disasters to a place where he had to tell it, and the middle of the pitch was the place to do it. And the idea was that Don would give a, you know, a really good pitch right beforehand with the word love in it and the schmaltzy Hershey thing that actually became sort of their real campaign.
But I love this idea that he had this personal association with it and that he would air this dirty laundry, and confession, you know, was good for the soul. It would be a moment of purity for him, which of course invites, you know, complete disaster. I mean, it's inappropriate behavior, business-wise.
GROSS: You know, in the first pitch that gives for - the schmaltzy pitch that he gives for Hershey about how Hershey is love and everything, he talks about how his father used to give him a Hershey bar and tousle his hair.
GROSS: And I thought, like, oh that word tousle, it's one of the phoniest words. I mean, anytime somebody tousles someone's hair, it's just, it's going to be a cliché. And I think oh, that was so perfect for, like, the cliché version.
WEINER: Well you know what? It's - part of the story of the show is: Who are the people who created this country? Who are these giants? And they have more stories like Don's than they do about having their hair tousled by their father.
WEINER: And you know what I mean? And it's like sure, there's an image that we convey of, like, family happiness and - but the drive behind the men and women who end up in Don's position and much higher, you know, presidents, heads of corporations, whatever, especially that Great Depression era generation, they have stories like this. And it sort of gets whitewashed, you know, when it comes time to sell stuff.
GROSS: Now that, you know, in that last episode of last season, now that Don is starting to, like, reveal who he is to some people, he takes his children to the house, the whorehouse where he grew up, and as his son says, it's in a bad neighborhood.
GROSS: The house is in shambles, and we see Don and his children in the last shot, looking up at the house. And then Sally and Don look at each other, and she's looking like who are you, and what have you just revealed to me. It's a great shot, and I would like you to talk about how you envisioned that shot.
WEINER: Well, you know, we start the whole season, usually I start it with an image in my head, and that was the image. The execution of that image is a totally different thing. By the time you get there, you know, when the camera is there, and the crew's there, and the actors are there, the pressure's on to actually execute it. But what I wanted was, what was in the script was - and I wrote it with Carly Wray. What we wanted to do was show that Sally was both disgusted and illuminated and that she would - she, like the rest of the world, was going to see Don.
I mean, she'd seen him - walked in on him with his mistress and, you know, Megan is her friend, sort of her stepmother, is her friend. The whole thing was already so damaged. But we set this thing up that she didn't know who he was. They had the woman break into their house pretending to be his - pretending to be her grandmother, and Sally was, like, fooled by it because she knows nothing about him.
And so I wanted in that moment - and it was tough because the camera, it was a very windy day, and I had this idea that the camera was going to boom down and sort of reveal them, which it does when they cross the street, but those shots were so simple, and it really had to do with Kiernan, the actress, interacting with Jon Hamm that made it work that way.
I think Jon Hamm looked at her like take it or leave it, baby, this is what it is, I'm being honest with you. And she looked it like that's gross, but oh my God, that's who you are. And the best thing is, to me, there are no words. This is where I grew up, no words, and that's the part that I find as a viewer sinks into me on - in any entertainment.
GROSS: So now we're into the final season. What makes writing this season different from writing all previous ones?
WEINER: Well, the network has decided to split it over two years, so that's already different. I'm telling - I added an extra episode because I didn't want to have a six-episode run. I mean, seven's going to feel short enough. And I had a lot of - you know, had a plan with the writers for these 14 episodes that goes across them together, but there's going to be 10 months in between them on the air.
So right away, I'm like, ugh, I need two premieres, I need two finales, really, because I want people to come back. It allowed for less digression, quite honestly. And I don't know how the audience feels about that, but when you're doing 13 episodes, you can investigate every corner of the story if you want to. You can follow anybody home.
And this has made us really concentrate on the main characters. That was one of the byproducts of it. And it, you know, it actually didn't seem like enough episodes for what we had to do. I'm writing episode 12 right now, so...
GROSS: No, you're still writing?
WEINER: I've actually written the last two - oh, yeah.
GROSS: My guest is Matthew Weiner, the creator of "Mad Men." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Matthew Weiner, the creator of "Mad Men." Let's get to the new season. The new season opened with Freddy Rumsen, who had been forced out of Sterling Cooper because of his alcoholism - it had become an embarrassment to himself and to the agency. He's sober now. And it opens with a camera on his face. His face fills the whole screen, and he's doing a pitch.
We don't know who he's talking to, but eventually it becomes clear he's making this pitch to Peggy. He's testing it on her. Here we go.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MAD MEN")
JOEL MURRAY: (As Freddy Rumsen) Do you have time to improve your life? Do you have precisely 30 seconds for a word from Accutron(ph) watches? The watch appears, bottom third. The second hand moves with a fluid sweep, and above it, Accutron time. You go into a business meeting. Is there food in your teeth, ashes on your tie? And you've got nothing to say. The meeting is boring, but you can't be. But you're wearing an Accutron. This watch makes you interesting.
(As Freddy) It's a boardroom. It's black and white. We hear light traffic, no talking. We just see our man, you, late 20s, shaggy with a youthful colic, but in a suit and tie. This is a businessman, staring at his watch as muffled conversation swirls around him. Now we just hear the electronic hum, (makes noises). He stands up, and the faces come into view, a couple of white-haired men and a contemporary who looks like Steve McQueen.
(As Freddy) You shake hands, and Steve McQueen gets a look at your watch. We hear the first words: Is that Swiss? Now we're in color, and it's a little interview for the two of them while the other men look, outlining the benefits of this watch. It is Swiss. It is accurate. It is the height of design and technology. Accutron: It's not a timepiece. It's a conversation piece.
ELISABETH MOSS: (As Peggy Olson) Wow, Freddy. That's a home run.
GROSS: OK. So that's the opening of this season of "Mad Men." My guest Matthew Weiner is the creator of the show. So when I first heard this pitch, first of all, I was totally disoriented, like I didn't recognize Freddy at first, and I thought who is he talking to? What is going on? And then I started thinking, God, this is like a fake Don Draper pitch. And then I started thinking, yeah, it's kind of, like, overly poetic for a watch. It's like somebody trying to be Don Draper and now quite making it.
And then, at the end of the episode, of course I find out no, Freddy's just Don Draper's surrogate. It's really Don Draper wrote this pitch and gave it to Freddy, because Draper is in exile and is persona non grata right now. And then I had to think, well, now I need to reconsider: Is this a good pitch? And...
WEINER: The funny - yeah, go ahead.
GROSS: ...I don't even know what I think anymore. I've gone back and forth so much about whether this is a good pitch for Accutron or not. Tell me what you think.
WEINER: Well, honestly, the interesting thing is Lou Avery's haircut on Peggy's idea, which is Accutron is accurate, is actually what they used.
GROSS: Yes - oh, really? OK.
WEINER: Yeah. So, I mean, it might be a bit much. To me, you know, we show the creative process as much as we can, which is the inspiration going through, you know, and I love the idea of Freddy, Joel Murray, telling a story and sort of breaking the fourth wall and looking into the camera. Scott Hornbacher directed it. And I wanted it to be a little jarring and a little disorienting, and I wanted to open with an ad.
And whether his language is poetic or not, there's a certain amount of salesmanship that goes into selling the idea to the immediate audience. They're selling it to the client, and then they're selling it to the consumer, and those are two different things. So his intensity and enthusiasm alone was supposed to be kind of jarring.
But what I really wanted to do was talk about, I guess, that objects sort of define who you are and talk about time and grab your attention with what was a very pure - whether it's good or bad - piece of advertising. And I don't know where to come down on it, whether it's good or bad, but that's sort of been the fun on this show. I think there - you know, a lot of the ads they don't aren't good, and they become good.
And, you know, who knows what - you know, I have my own feelings about what a good ad is. The only measure in the end is, you know, what sells the product. And, you know, believe it or not, ring around the collar is, like, you know, the A-plus of that.
GROSS: So let's get to another scene from this season of "Mad Men," and my guest Matthew Weiner is the creator of the show. So this is from the second - I think it's from the second episode. Sally's at a boarding school now, and one of her roommate's mothers has died, so she and her other friends have permission to go to the funeral in Manhattan. And they end up using this as an opportunity to also go shopping, and during that shopping trip, Sally loses her handbag.
So she goes to Don's office to ask him for train money home, and is shocked and confused to find not only isn't Don at the office, someone else has taken over his office, and she doesn't understand why he's not there. No one's telling her. So she goes to his apartment and waits for him there. He eventually comes home. He decides to drive her back to the boarding school in order to have a chance to talk with her.
They stop for a bite at a roadside diner. She's still - yeah.
WEINER: Can I just say one thing about your (unintelligible) there? It's important to say that he comes in, and he lies to her. That's really the key to the story.
GROSS: Yes, because he says that he was - what does he - he says he was at the office, but he was...
WEINER: He says he was in the office.
GROSS: Yeah, yeah.
WEINER: And he's feeling sick and came home, and she had a chance - yeah.
GROSS: So then they stop for a bite at a roadside diner. And she's still really angry at him because she had accidentally walked in on him while he was having sex with his neighbor Sylvia, with whom he had an affair all of last season. So she knows he's a liar. And she knows he's not really working at the ad agency, and at the roadside diner, she wonders why he lied to her again.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MAD MEN")
HAMM: (As Don) The reason I didn't tell you I wasn't working was because I didn't want anyone to know.
KIERNAN SHIPKA: (As Sally Draper) Got it.
HAMM: (As Don) I didn't behave well. I said the wrong things to the wrong people at the wrong time.
SHIPKA: (As Sally) What did you say?
HAMM: (As Don) I told the truth about myself. But it wasn't the right time, and so they made me take some time off. And I was ashamed.
SHIPKA: (As Sally) What was the truth?
HAMM: (As Don) Nothing you don't know.
SHIPKA: (As Sally) So what are you going to do?
HAMM: (As Don) I don't know. It's kind of up to them.
SHIPKA: (As Sally) If you're not going to work, why don't you stay with Megan?
HAMM: (As Don) Because I wanted to be here to fix it.
SHIPKA: (As Sally) How?
HAMM: (As Don) I don't know.
SHIPKA: (As Sally) Do you still love Megan?
HAMM: (As Don) Of course I do. You know I visit every couple weeks. I talk to her all the time.
SHIPKA: (As Sally) Why don't you just tell her that you don't want to move to California?
HAMM: (As Don) Go ahead.
SHIPKA: (As Sally) Can I get a Coke?
HAMM: (As Don) Sure.
GROSS: A scene from this season of "Mad Men." My guest, Matthew Weiner, created the show. So, there's a pattern here, like, Don is trying to tell the truth when he has to, and he's trying to change, but it's - he doesn't even know how to do any of it. He doesn't know when and how, usually, to tell the truth. But he's trying, and that's something new.
WEINER: It's really new. I mean, that was sort of what the premiere was about, when he said to the woman on the airplane, Neve Campbell, you know, have I broken the vessel? The idea is that, you know, Don Draper goes to that elevated language to say: Like, have I destroyed everything, not just, like, my marriage but my job, my family, my kids, this whole thing?
And he's being forced into it on some level, but he doesn't know what to do, and I think it's interesting, because you don't know what to do. It's so amorphous when things like this are done. And I always wonder about this conversation. I wondered when we were writing it. It's written by - I wrote it with Jonathan Igla and directed by Mike Uppendahl. And I always wondered, like, this conversation is inappropriate. It's not very fatherly.
He's being - he's not really being an adult in terms of, like, withholding his information. But he's exposed. She knows him. And it probably feels great for him to tell her. And you know that line about the Coke there at the end was basically to show, like, yeah, she's still a little girl, you know. But he's trying. I mean, I think you'll see, you know, we just aired episode 3. Things don't go so great for him when he tells the truth, and part of what this half-season is about to me - and maybe the season as a whole - is dealing with those consequences.
Don is trying to find a way to change. It doesn't mean everybody else is just, like, yay, hooray for you, Don. Good for you. They're, like, you have a past. And you have wronged all of these people, and you behaved in this certain way. And just because you're feeling different doesn't mean we feel different. The thing that was important about that episode is to understand that his child, she loves him no matter what.
GROSS: Matthew Weiner will be back in the second half of the show. The fourth episode of the final season will be shown Sunday on AMC. Here's the Jimi Hendrix track that closed last Sunday's episode. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with the creator of "Mad Men," Matthew Weiner. He's also an executive producer, writer and director. "Mad Men" is in its final season, but the season is divided in half, with the second half scheduled for next year. If you follow the series but aren't caught up, you might want to postpone listening to this interview until you've reached this season's third episode, which was shown last Sunday.
At the end of last season, Don Draper suggested to his wife Megan that they move to the West Coast and start over, but he changed his mind at the last minute. So Megan - who had already quit her job, acting in a soap opera in New York - moved without him. She's been unable to find work and her agent called Don to say she's begun to act desperate at auditions. In this scene from last Sunday's episode, Don flew to L.A. to check on Megan, but he hadn't yet told her that his partners at the advertising agency had forced him to take a leave of absence. She still thinks he's been working at the office and she suspects he's been having an affair.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MAD MEN")
JESSICA PARE: (As Megan) I'm sorry I had to interrupt your love affairs with the disaster of my career.
HAMM: (As Don) Megan, sit down.
PARE: (As Megan) I was your secretary, remember? I know what you're like when you're left alone.
HAMM: (As Don) You're acting crazy.
PARE: (As Megan) So where are you? Why can't I reach you? Who's your new girl, Don?
HAMM: (As Don) There is no one else. I've been at home. They put me on leave, OK?
PARE: (As Megan) You lost your job?
HAMM: (As Don) Don't worry. I'm still getting paid.
PARE: (As Megan) I don't give a (bleep). When did this happen?
HAMM: (As Don) Right after you left.
PARE: (As Megan) They fired you last year?
HAMM: (As Don) I didn't get fired. That's the thing. I don't know if they want me or they don't want me.
PARE: (As Megan) Why didn't you tell me?
HAMM: (As Don) Because I messed up and I didn't want you to know until I fixed it. And there is no one else. I've been good. I haven't even been drinking that much.
PARE: (As Megan) So with a clear head, you got up every day and decided that you didn't want to be with me.
HAMM: (As Don) Megan.
PARE: (As Megan) I'm not walking out of my own house, so that means you have to leave.
HAMM: (As Don) Have you calmed down?
PARE: (As Megan) I'm not kidding around. I want you to call a cab, get on a plane, go home. I don't want you to worry about me anymore.
HAMM: (As Don) Stop it.
PARE: (As Megan) It's OK, Don. This is the way it ends. It's going to be so much easier for both of us.
GROSS: Jessica Pare with Jon Hamm in a scene from "Mad Men." My guest, Matthew Weiner, is the creator of the show. Once again, confessing the truth at an awkward moment and...
GROSS: ...and not being thanked for it.
GROSS: This relationship was not his fantasy. His fantasy was for Megan to be his number two, his beautiful wife at home and at dinners, the beautiful secretary and then the beautiful protege.
WEINER: Didn't work out.
GROSS: Yeah. It's so...
WEINER: She expressed...
WEINER: ...her independence and that was very hard for him.
GROSS: How far in advance did you see this coming? Like when you wrote her in as his secretary, did you see this far down the line?
WEINER: No. I mean she's - I was lucky enough to work with Frank Pierson, who was married three times. He passed away at 87 while still on the writing staff. But there was a certain thing he explained about the experience of a second wife and that it was a chance for Don to be seen the way he wanted to be seen and to start over and to do it right. You know, as they say, what is it, the ultimate triumph of hope over experience? And in season five really, we wanted to deal with Don's fantasy of his romance with this woman and then see that she had different plans. And it was almost like a narcissistic blow to him that she had her own idea of what she wanted to do. And she's kind of a modern person.
But what we did see happening is that after the finale last year, when Don was the person who re-proposed to Megan and said I want to get away from here. I want to get away from, quote, "Sylvia" that you don't know about. I screwed up at work, whatever, quit your job. Let's go to California and start anew. I've been drinking too much, etcetera.
Then he gave away California because he felt guilty about Ted and his daughter also, who was also in trouble. So once she had committed to doing that and quit her job, I don't know that it was the right thing for him to say oh, by the way, I got fired also, that's why I'm not going to California. So I kind of understood how he got in the lie. But, you know, Don was not good for her and the young woman get married Don is not the adult that is now dealing with him.
GROSS: Well, you're making it sound like this is a permanent split.
WEINER: I, well, you know, it's - I don't know that it's a permanent split. You know, I'm not going to give any spoilers, but you're definitely seeing someone assert themselves in strength. And then, you know, he calls her after he's going back to the agency and she says, you know, I'm your wife. Don't push me away with both hands. He almost doesn't know how to be intimate and trusting, you know. I think even when Betty found out who he was, you know, she said if you had told me, and he's, like, well, when am I going to tell you? It's the kind of person, you know, when you get stuck in a lie that's that a big that long, like you look back and say well, there might have been a moment, but it was working like this sort of.
GROSS: So there's one other clip that I want to get in. And this is the end of Sunday's episode. Don Draper has been out in the cold. He's in exile from his own agency and he sets up a dinner where he's offer from another ad agency. He brings that offer and shows it to Roger and kind of gets Roger to invite him to come back on Monday. But Roger neglects to tell anyone at the agency that Don is coming back. So Don shows up, no one knows what he's doing there. No one seems particularly happy to see him. And he's sitting at the table with the creatives in the department just like waiting for hours. And finally, he gets the meeting with - what happens is that Roger has to convince the partners to let Don come back and they're willing to let them come back but with conditions. And this is the scene where Don walks into the office with all of the partners and he's about to be hit with their conditions. Don Draper speaks first.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MAD MEN")
HAMM: (As Don Draper) Sorry if I disrupted your day, but I'd had a productive time myself catching myself with everything.
ROBERT MORSE: (As Betram Cooper) Well, we've discussed and we've reached a conclusion that we'd like you to come back to work.
HAMM: (As Don Draper) I'm pleased to hear that.
MORSE: (As Betram Cooper) But there are stipulations.
CHRISTINA HENDRICKS: (As Joan Harris) Violation of which will result in termination and a re-absorbtion of your partnership shares.
MORSE: (As Betram Cooper) You are not allowed to be alone with clients. You are to stick to the script in meetings, and that means the script will be approved by the people in this room.
HENDRICKS: (As Joan Harris) Outside of client hospitality, there will be no drinking in the office.
JOHN SLATTERY: (As Roger) You'll be in Lane's old office.
HARRY HAMLIN: (As Jim) And you will report to Lou.
HAMM: (As Don) OK.
GROSS: So, Matthew Weiner, I see this as like Don knowing he needs to be punished and this is the sentence that he's been given. Tell me what you think.
WEINER: Well, you'll have to watch.
WEINER: I can just tell you one thing...
GROSS: I will. I will watch.
WEINER: It's certainly humbling, as was that whole experience being in the office there. I mean, I hope everyone's wondering what he's up to, if he is planning to have the trial by fire and earn it or if he's up to some kind of scheme, or I don't know what they're thinking. I just knew that he had to get to the bottom of that thing. His conversation...
GROSS: Wait. What thing?
WEINER: Of get to the bottom of his job at that agency. I mean when he goes and asks Roger, he tells him I've been offered this great job elsewhere, and he says I started the company and, you know, I basically don't want to abandon it. And Roger says well, I miss you. And it's that easy. And then, of course, it's not that easy. And Don's saying I've changed or I want to come back or I've been away or I did what you said is not going to be enough. And so what OK means is sort of the story of what goes on in the show from here on.
WEINER: It's definitely a humbling moment that should show you that in some way he has changed.
GROSS: When Don Draper goes back for the first time since his exile back to the office, and he's sitting at the table in the art department with the creatives, it looks like the room's too small for him. It looks like he's the teacher in a classroom and the classroom is like the child-sized desks and he's sitting at one of the desks and he's just too big. And I was wondering if for that scene if you made all the furniture slightly smaller so that Don would look like too big for the room.
WEINER: No, we didn't. But Chris Manley directed this and we decided altogether and the way it was shot to really make that room, make Don seem to dominate that room and as the story went on people started leaving him alone there. And Jon Hamm is so good at conveying that discomfort. It doesn't really go with the leading that thing and he just commits to it completely. He looks so anxious when his secretary finally comes in and says they want to see you. Leading men don't reveal that side that much anymore than they do what he did in the Hershey pitch. But no, we did not affect the set in any way. There are lenses that are used to make Don seem bigger in some places. In the writers' room, it was always like Don's a caged animal and there is like someone down there in a cage and people are, you know, everybody wants to go in and see him at first and eventually it's just like, don't go near that lion. Don't get, just...
WEINER: ...leave him alone. People started tiptoeing in past him. And they usually work in there and everybody abandoned him because it's so uncomfortable what he's doing.
GROSS: My guest is Matthew Weiner, the creator of "Mad Men." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
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GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. My guest is the creator of "Mad Men," Matthew Weiner, who is also an executive producer, writer and director on the show. The fourth episode of the final season will be shown Sunday on AMC.
So one of the ultimate questions I think you're asking in this final season of "Mad Men" is, is a person truly capable of change? Does the truth redeem you as somebody who's done as much harm to other people as Don has done intentionally or unintentionally? Is a person like that capable of redemption? So I just wonder what kind of existential questions you've been asking yourself as you've written the final episodes.
WEINER: Believe it or not, that is a big part of it. And to really get too in-depth in it will kind of reveal what's happening - although, who knows, maybe it wouldn't. But, you know, I am finishing the show while we are moving Don in this pathway and those two things are not lost on me. I have a birthday the day after we wrap. It's 49. My oldest son, who is on the show, is going off to college in the fall. There's a lot happening at once as the show ends. And so what I've been thinking about is sort of like what is the substance of your life? Who are the people you make a difference with? You know, at what point do you start looking at yourself in an honest way? Is change possible is a big part of it, you know. There's been a lot of apologizing going on in the show and Don's certainly owes people apologies. But how people behave to your change is sometimes the thing that keeps you from changing.
So the existential questions are like, you know, Don's sort of like there are no rules, I'm living like there's no tomorrow, that whole thing, it's gotten old as he's gotten older. And now he's sort of starting to think about what kind of person am I? And I guess I'm just going to be leaving these characters in a place where they belong and I'm trying to take Don on a journey that will help you understand something about him. I don't know if it reflects on you.
GROSS: So I've read that you recently showed the cast of "Mad Men" their audition tapes. Why did you decide to do that? And can you describe one of the auditions that stands out in your mind as being especially fortuitous?
WEINER: I decided to do it because I wanted to make sure that we don't let this thing pass. And all of our lives, you know, have changed so much. But I wanted to show them in private. I wasn't worried that they might not want to see them. You know, I invited them to the house for dinner and I was worried that people were going to be like embarrassed; some actors don't like to watch themselves. But the thing that they had in common is that they're really, really great auditions. They got the parts, you know? And I've auditioned thousands of people and these are exceptional auditions.
I think one of the ones that really struck everybody though, January Jones' audition for Betty with material that was not in the pilot that I had written because the part was so small in the pilot and they wanted me to commit to her to play Betty Draper if the show went on, which it wasn't even ordered. So I had to write basically a scene for this character that was, you know - I'd written the pilot like four and a half years beforehand. This is the first thing that I had written for the show since then. And she came in and she's just in complete control of what she's doing and so vulnerable and so beautiful and disappears into the part. They're all great auditions, you know, they got the parts, you know?
Christina Hendricks was really interesting. She was like I can see in my audition how badly I needed a job.
WEINER: And it was like, oh. And Jon Hamm, you know, it's become, you know, part of the legend of the show that he had to audition seven times, and that was not my doing. He was an unknown person, and they required some convincing to rest this, you know, multimillion-dollar property on an unknown person.
GROSS: I'm surprised that you could tell with Don Draper because, like, Jon Hamm when he's just being himself on a talk show or even on "Saturday Night Live" he looks so much, like, smaller and contemporary and, you know, kind of comedic.
GROSS: And that kind of old fashioned presence that he has.
WEINER: No. I mean, part of it for me was I had this litmus test that - at the end of the pilot, you find out that he's married, and I would just sort of watch the audition and say: Do I hate this man for cheating on his wife? Do I hate him after everything I've seen?
And Jon had a depth and maybe carries, you know - even if it's fictional - a sense of a wound, a sense of a conscience, a sense of conflict that completely - you're seeing it on the show all the time. I mean, that's - he brought that to it and it was, you know, I luckily - and I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night and I think, like, oh, my God. What if I didn't cast him? You know? Well, I wouldn't have a show.
GROSS: Listen, I would love to talk more, but I promised to let you go. And just tell me am I letting you go so that you can write or shoot today? What are you doing this weekend?
WEINER: I'm going to...
GROSS: Is it writing and shooting or?
WEINER: I finished episode 12 last night. We are shooting Episode 10 right now. I'm going to go to a sound mix for Episode 6.
WEINER: And then I'm going to stop in the writer's room and spend four hours trying to get the story right for Episode 13 so I can send Carly Rae off to write the draft.
GROSS: Ooh, you'd better get going.
WEINER: It's a lot.
WEINER: No, it's all good. It's all good. I work all days of the weekend and, you know, eventually I'm going to have you do an interview with me and my family so we can get reacquainted.
GROSS: OK. Well, I really can't wait to see what you do next on "Mad Men."
GROSS: And good luck...
WEINER: Thank you.
GROSS: ...with the rest of the series. Thank you so much for coming back.
WEINER: Sure. Thank you, Terry.
GROSS: Matthew Weiner is the creator "Mad Men." Episode four of the final season will be shown Sunday on AMC. Coming up, rock historian Ed Ward tells the story of the British invasion band The Animals. A new box set collects four of their albums. This is FRESH AIR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.